Monday, April 22, 2013

Game of Thrones review: "And Now His Watch is Ended"

"And now his watch is ended" -- the men of the Night's Watch say these words as they watch the body of their fallen brother burn, a necessity north of The Wall to prevent him from rising again as a White Walker. It's a fitting symbol for a superb episode focused on the past being brought back to life, and on those who seek to avenge it.

Daenerys, Varys, Tyrion, Jamie, Brienne, Arya, the Brotherhood Without Banners and the Night's Watch are all seeking revenge for wrongs done in the near and distant past.
Daenerys has the most immediate return on that quest, unleashing her dragon on the slave trader and the city and brilliantly turning the Unsullied against their former master. Her vengeance on the slaver was more of a side project, though, borne of feelings of disgust churned up after being newly confronted with slavery. Her larger goal of reclaiming the throne is still leagues away, even as she gains a very impressive -- and willing -- army.

It's Varys who has the more satisfying conclusion to a lifelong quest for revenge, capturing the sorcerer who castrated him as a boy while he felt everything but could do nothing. (What he'll do with the man, I'm sure I don't want to know.) Conleth Hill was spellbinding as he told Varys' tale, how he spent a lifetime taking "one distasteful step after another" to hone his intelligence craft so he could finally get his hands on the sorcerer. "Influence grows like a weed," he told Tyrion, who was there seeking information for his own revenge against his sister for trying to have him killed at Blackwater. "I tended mine patiently until its tentacles reached from the Red Keep all the way across to the far side of the world, where I managed to wrap them around something very special."

Varys vowed to live to spite the sorcerer and ultimately get his revenge. Jaime, who has been forced to wear his severed hand around his neck, is ready to die -- especially after being humiliated by his captors in a futile attempt to prove he's still worth something with a sword, even in his left hand. But Brienne convinces him to do what Varys did: Live for revenge. "You have a taste of the real world," she tells him, "where people have important things taken from them." Brienne no doubt had Renly in mind, and her own taste for vengeance.

Elsewhere, we learn that the Brotherhood Without Banners follows a moral code in which they seek out people, like The Hound or his brother, who have killed the weak. Arya, who has a "prayer" of the names of people she would like to see die (The Hound included), brings up her friend Micah, who back in the first season was the first real victim of Joffrey's whims. The Hound killed him for allegedly striking the then-prince, though Arya was the one who did the striking. The Hound argues he was only following orders, but that makes no difference to Arya.

And north of The Wall, the fed-up men of the Night's Watch kill Craster, a truly vile man whose withholding of food caused their brother to die and has kept their own stomachs empty. (Lord Commander Mormont, unfortunately, gets killed in the process; I'm sad to see him go.)

Throughout all this were frequent call-backs to earlier episodes and characters: Arya, with Micha; mention of Ned and Robert; Bran being pushed out of the tree the way he was pushed out a castle window; Theon replaying the events that led him to retake Winterfell; even Joffrey being fixated on the brutal deaths of Targaryens from long ago who are now buried in the sept at King's Landing. All of these bring history to the present and show that very little is ever forgotten.

Other thoughts:
-- Margaery is one smart cookie. She's practically pulling all of Joffrey's strings now, and has him so puffed up that he takes cheers for her as cheers for himself. Cersei can ignore it no longer: Either emboldened by Margaery's strength or threatened by it, she goes to her father to try to convince him to sever ties with the Tyrells. But Tywin tells her it's about time someone has been able to control Joffrey, and Cersei once again is put in her place. In the process, she learns her father has no respect for her. You can sense her strength unraveling.

-- Poor, gullible Sansa is in for a world of hurt. Either she's going to be married off to gay Loras -- which won't be the fairy tale she envisions at all -- or Littlefinger will whisk her away first. I've never been a big fan of Sansa, but I hate that she's a pawn in everyone's game. The Tyrells want her so they can gain the land and armies of the North; Varys wants to help so he can keep Littlefinger's fingers off the same.

-- Though the purpose of Theon's trajectory continues to confound me, I was moved by his reflections in the tunnel. He's an Ironborn, but he realizes now that's not was he was born to be. He turned his back on the family that loved him to try to please the family that abandoned him -- and he allowed two innocent children to be killed in the process. Now, he's nothing. "My real father lost his head at King's Landing," he tells his savior/captor, referring to Ned Stark. "I made a choice. And I chose wrong."

-- The Hound's insistence that he's done nothing wrong -- "Don't call me a murderer" -- reminded me of Jaime's views on necessary killings. Also, though he's being challenged for going after innocents, we must remember that he was once the protector of one such innocent: Sansa.

-- Queen of Thorns to Varys: "What happens when the nonexistent bumps against the decrepit? Question for the philosphers." Ha!

-- The sept set is A-MA-ZING.

What did everyone else think?

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